Late last week, the Big 12 Conference was dead--a thing of the past. Kansas and its elite basketball program would travel to Colorado State and Wyoming as the newest member of the Mountain West Conference. Texas and its southern cohorts were headed for the beaches of California and a 16-team Pac-10 conference. To think otherwise wouldn't have made much sense. Nebraska was out the door to the Big Ten and Colorado had already evacuated to the Pac-10.
But somewhere along the line, someone decided to do something. Namely, the Big 12 talked Texas back from the ledge long enough for the remaining schools to decide a 10-team conference wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Whether you blame Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds for pushing the league to the brink of destruction by flirting with the Pac-10, or credit him for agreeing to stay in the Big 12, one thing is clear: The Big 12 is a stronger, more interesting basketball league without Nebraska and Colorado.
That being said, the league will certainly look different come fall 2011, and Nebraska and Colorado will have some drastic adjustments to make. Here's what the results could mean for the stakeholders:
The decision to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten was--like everything in Lincoln--all about football. On the basketball side of things not much should change for Nebraska in its new conference.
The Huskers teetered on the brink of hoops irrelevance in recent years, finishing 2-14 in the Big 12 last season and 8-8 or worse in each of the past 11 years. Nebraska struggled mightily to score and to prevent scoring last season, recording a -0.15 points-per-possession mark in conference play. The Huskers top-20 defensive efficiency had been an asset for two consecutive seasons, but when it cratered to 91st nationally and 10th in the Big 12, the victories likewise disappeared.
Doc Sadler's Nebraska will fit in with its Big Ten brethren much more seamlessly than it did with its Big 12 counterparts. Sadler hasn't helmed a team that used more than 64 possessions per game, the kind of glacial pace that the Big Ten has become known for in recent years. In fact, the 2010 Huskers would have played at the Big Ten's seventh fastest adjusted pace.
Assuming they stick around, Nebraska will take the services of forward Brian Diaz and guard Brandon Richardson to the Big Ten. Each showed flashes this past season, as Diaz blocked shots and Richardson posted a 111.5 offensive rating. Then again the members of this year's incoming class could also be major players in Nebraska's first Big Ten season. Kamyron Brown is a 6-2 Oregon transfer who played the role of turnover-prone backup point guard in his two seasons in Eugene. Caleb Walker is a 6-4 former junior college All-American selection at Butler County (KS). In the long-term, however, if Doc Sadler can't recruit with the likes of Missouri and Kansas State, there's little reason to expect he'll keep up with the Ohio States and Michigan States of the world.
One has to wonder if Colorado would have been so gung-ho about joining the Pac-10 had it known it would be the only Big 12 team to leave for the league. The school's already-inconvenient location is now even more inconvenient, and, in basketball terms, it's still not an NCAA tournament team any time soon.
The Buffs showed flashes of late promise this past season, as wings Alec Burks and Cory Higgins formed one of the Big 12's more effective combinations. At 6-10 in conference play, Colorado was technically the first Big 12 team out of the NCAA tournament (though, with a No. 86 KenPom ranking, the team wasn't close to a berth). Doesn't sound impressive? It was, considering over the previous two seasons the Buffaloes went 7-41 in Big 12 games.
Avoiding six almost-automatic losses against Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri won't hurt, but Colorado won't be one of the Pac-10's elite right away. Barring unforeseen circumstances, CU will bring Burks and several role players to the Pac-10. Burks, who delivered both efficiency and prominence as a freshman, should be good enough for a few victories no matter who's surrounding him. But Burks is about the only good news for new coach Tad Boyle, who won't retain Cory Higgins (112.5 ORtg) or Casey Crawford (44.4 3FG%) past this coming season.
Things went from catastrophic to fortuitous very quickly for Kansas, Kansas State and the rest of the new-look Big 12. Kansas should stay one of the nation's best and retain the recruiting cachet that comes with power conference affiliation. Kansas State should continue to import physical east coast bodies and play grind-it-out, winning basketball. Missouri's wonderfully frantic system should keep bedeviling opponents. Texas should stack its ever-growing money pile higher still while Texas A&M continues to produce under Mark Turgeon's watch. Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas Tech will play hot potato with the league's worst record while Baylor and Oklahoma State build on solid foundations.
Victories won't come as easily with two of the conference's also-rans out of the picture, but teams should benefit from better strength-of-schedule numbers and a brutal regular season slate. Also note that the league's current north-south imbalance should be replaced with the more desirable true round-robin 18-game format used by the Missouri Valley and (the old) Pac-10.
For now it looks like the beauty that is college basketball in the Great Plains--with the help of some divine intervention--survived a historically hectic week in football's big-money meat grinder. And actually came out stronger for it.
Asher Fusco is a writer in New York City.